Cars 2 hopefully just an anomalous blip) and Dreamworks' Megamind covering similar themes and ideas, Universal needed to pull something special out of the bag to truly make a mark in the computer-animated market.
Despicable Me centres around Gru (Steve Carell), a super-villain who suddenly finds himself overshadowed by new villain on the block Vector (Jason Segel). Gru therefore plans his greatest scheme yet: stealing the moon. After one or two unexpected turns of events, Gru hatches a idea to adopt three orphan girls to help him succeed in his his evil plan.
There's a fair amount to like about Despicable Me. Carell is entertaining as Gru, and the young voice actresses for the three orphans Margo, Edith and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher) do very well, bringing a level of cuteness to the trio that is sweet but never saccharine and increasingly authentic as the film goes on. Russell Brand is almost unrecognisable as Gru's right hand man Doctor Nefario, giving him a pleasing gruff tone, but I felt he could have done a little more with the role. The cast elsewhere are satisfactory but never do much to truly bring the supporting players to life. I also can't help but feel that Jason Segel as Gru's rival villain Vector was somewhat miscast, holding back too much in a role that requires a more over-the-top approach; compare his performance to, say, Rainn Wilson's antagonist Gallaxhar in Monsters Vs. Aliens and Segel's villainous turn here just doesn't stand up.
The plot is predictable but enjoyable. At only ninety minutes in length, however, there's limited time for the relationship between Gru and his adoptive daughters to develop, the kind of development that has been achieved much more successfully in multiple Pixar offerings. That said, there is definite heart at the centre of Despicable Me's story, something which comes through pleasingly more and more throughout.
Elsewhere, things feel a little more uneven. The action set pieces never deliver anything more than satisfactory thrills. The plot too never fully resolves the fact that Despicable Me inhabits a curious world where super-villains live, but with no recognisable superheroes to oppose them. It's an odd choice, and one that becomes less important in the film's final act, but certainly one which for me left parts of the film's story feeling perfunctory or incomplete .
Ultimately, Despicable Me is enjoyable with enough going for it to make it a worthwhile watch. It never comes close to the heights of a Pixar classic in either story or technical wizardry; but it's never mediocre either, something which the inferior Megamind cannot claim. Placing a film like this under close scrutiny is only setting yourself up for disappointment. It's hard to truly recommend Despicable Me with so many perfect and near-perfect pieces of cinema being released in the CGI arena, but as straightforward entertainment it succeeds more often than it fails.